Progress on plans to create a marina in Slidell’s Heritage Park has been as meandering and slow-moving as the bayous that snake through St. Tammany Parish, but the long-awaited project is finally getting close to launch.
The Slidell City Council voted last week to provide $600,000 to meet the city’s share of a federal grant to repair bulkheads and build a marina with space for 42 boats, nine slips and a floating docking space.
City Councilman Bill Borchert, who has pushed the project, said construction could begin June 1 and take up to nine months.
The city first secured a $1.5 million federal grant for the project in 2012 when officials were considering a problem: The bulkhead along Bayou Bonfouca was in poor repair, and fixing it would be expensive.
Borchert, a boating enthusiast, learned about the Boating Infrastructure Grant program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which could enable the city to do more than just repair the bulkhead.
With the grant money, Slidell would also be able to create a new amenity for its waterfront park: a marina that will not only enable local boaters to dock there during popular park events but also draw what are known as transient boaters — those in vessels 26 feet long or longer — who stay for longer periods.
The city won the grant, but coming up with matching funds is part of what has slowed the process. Slidell officials wanted to use the value of some work planned for the park as part of the local match. For example, the city planned to refurbish the old Bayou Liberty pontoon bridge with inmate labor and use it as a canal crossing, a project officials said would be worth $220,000. But the federal agency wouldn’t allow inmate labor on projects that exceed $50,000, Council Administrator Thomas Reeves said.
The city also had to secure permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a process that was complicated by the park’s proximity to an EPA Superfund site at Bayou Bonfouca.
“The permitting took years,” Mayor Freddy Drennan said. “It took a lot longer than we thought.”
But last week, the City Council adopted a supplemental 2015-16 budget that finally puts the necessary funding in place, using $600,000 from the $2.2 million the city received as its share of the BP oil spill settlement. In total, the city will end up putting about $1 million toward the marina project.
But Slidell officials still consider the deal a good one for the city.
The bulkhead, which is 20 to 30 years old, was made from old materials and is riddled with holes, Reeves said. Leaving it unrepaired was not an option, for it will begin caving in, eroding the park and creating unsafe conditions.
This project will extend the bulkhead, as well as repair it, and provide places for boaters to dock.
Drennan put it in simple terms at Tuesday’s council meeting: The city could either repair the bulkhead with its own funds, a job that would likely exceed $1 million in cost, or spend about the same amount and get a marina as well.
The mayor said he is asked about the project quite often by boaters.
Borchert envisions those with larger vessels who take longer cruises being drawn to the marina as a safe and easy place to dock during trips to New Orleans, a sought-after destination. For Slidell, those visitors could mean an infusion of tourist dollars.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, at @spagonesadvocat.